A group of residents in Abbotsford is lobbying the B.C. government to allow two children currently living in sanctuary at a Langley church to attend public school.
Sixteen-year-old Patrik and 12-year-old Tamas Juhasz fled Hungary with their mother Marianna to escape domestic violence four years ago.
The family settled in Canada with Marianna working three jobs to make ends meet, but the family was ordered to leave the country in November after their application to remain in Canada on humanitarian grounds was denied.
But the family chose to ignore the deportation order and sought sanctuary at the Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley instead.
It has now been over three months since the family was granted refuge at the church with little progress on their case.
Family friend Brenda Golden says a small group of people is interacting with the Juhaszs on a weekly basis, dropping off food and trying to keep their spirits up.
Golden says there are anticipated struggles, the children being the age they are.
Patrik and Tamas are not currently enrolled in any school programs. They are getting some help online, but it is not amounting to any accreditation.
“They are losing that momentum of their education,” says Golden.
She and a group of other family supporters reached out to the Ministry of Education at the end of February.
They penned a letter to the ministry, requesting the children be given permission to leave the church and attend school.
Golden says they have now heard back from Education Minister Peter Fassbender saying eligibility for free public education is based on residence rather than citizenship or immigration status. But the group plans to reach out to the minister of immigration and public safety as well to ensure the children can safely step out of the church without getting detained.
“They are not getting the sunshine, they are in a confined space so we rely on people to come by and socialize with them,” says Golden. “It is difficult and it does affect their mental health.”
Golden says aside from the lack of social life and schooling, Patrick needs dental help and Marianna is suffering from minor aches and pains, but seeing a doctor is not an option at this time.
“It does feel like you are in a cage,” says Golden. “It is difficult because you wile away the days. You can’t leave the building. It is confining.”
Despite the hardship, Golden says the family is not giving up hope.
“I think they are doing very well under the circumstances. But the reality is there are a lot of needs,” she says. “Nobody here is giving up. We believe in the Canadian immigration system and that the right thing will happen.”
Golden and her group are currently working on securing a lawyer to begin the process of obtaining a status for the family again.
“We have acquired so much more information and we have found all kinds of things in the first application that were missed or maybe even incorrect,” she adds.
Meanwhile, they are trying to get the family to stay positive.
“The hope is in little things. The big picture is to be walking out that door.”
A fundraiser was held for the family earlier this month. A GoFundMe campaign to help financially support the family is still going strong as well.